Study reveals ancient rocks linked to old Earth's crust

February 24, 2010

( -- A new geological study which took place in the Pilbara region of Western Australia brings us one step closer to understanding more precisely the timing of when the primordial earth crust was formed and its composition.

The study, published online this week in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience, was led by Research Associate, Dr Svetlana Tessalina, of the GEMOC ARC National Key Centre, Department of and Planetary Sciences at Macquarie University. The team also included Prof. Pascal Philippot from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, and colleagues from the Geological Survey of Western Australia and Switzerland.

The earliest history of Earth remains obscure because the oldest preserved terrestrial rocks are 4.03 billion years old, leaving a window of almost 500 million years after Earth’s formation at 4.567 billion years with very little recorded history. Nowadays, however, advances in allow us to decipher the isotopic signals that keep the memory of older rocks.

Relics of little deformed and altered ancient rocks are present in some parts of the world, such as the Pilbara Craton in Australia. To go back in time and better understand the early history of our planet, Tessalina and her colleagues looked at the North Pole Dome site of the Pilbara Craton which contains some of the oldest terrestrial rocks and fossils. The remnants found there provided the vital clues indicating some geochemical fingerprints of ancient lithosphere.

Tessalina and her colleagues collected samples including volcanic, sedimentary and hydrothermal rocks from the area - both drilled and from outcrops. The rocks and sediments were then analysed for their . The results showed that the analysed rocks are 3.49 billion years old as was previously thought. However, they were contaminated by much older crustal component during their formation. Geochemical modelling shows the crustal component to be at least 4.3 billion years old.

Until now, the physical remnants of such an old crust have not been found on the Earth’s surface - except for rare zircon crystals which are preserved in another area of Western Australia called the Yilgarn Craton. These crystals have revealed a surprising amount about early Earth conditions, but only tell one side of the crustal evolutionary story - that of granitic crust. The results show that there was another side to the early Earth story - a mafic crustal component.

Based on their findings, Tessalina and her colleagues believe that the evolution of the Pilbara and possibly other Archean cratons began much earlier than recorded by their physical rocks record alone would indicate.

Dr Tessalina said the findings provide further evidence that the crust on Earth started to form between 4.3 and 4.5 billion years ago. This crust may represent a part of the early “skin” covering what is widely considered to have been a magma-ocean . The preservation of geochemical relics of this ancient period of Earth history may help unravel part of the early history of our planet.

Explore further: Bias in the rock record?

Related Stories

Bias in the rock record?

January 14, 2009

( -- The fossil record is known to be biased by the unevenness of geographical and stratigraphical sampling, and the lack of exposed rocks containing fossils. In a recent Perspective in Science [2 January 2009] ...

Ancient rock collisions may have formed Western Australia

March 30, 2007

A new 3D picture of the geology of Western Australia, captured by measuring seismic waves from deep in the Earth’s crust, has provided evidence that it was created when vast regions of ancient world slammed into each other.

Australia's ancient oceans: toxic and purple

October 6, 2005

Ancient oceans in Australia’s north were toxic seas of sulfur, supporting coloured bacteria that made the seas appear purple and unlike anything we know of in the Earth’s history, according to new ANU research.

Earth's surface transformed by massive asteroids

August 5, 2005

A cluster of at least three asteroids between 20 and 50 kilometres across colliding with Earth over 3.2 billion years ago caused a massive change in the structure and composition of the earth’s surface, according to new ...

Recommended for you

Scientists determine source of world's largest mud eruption

October 17, 2017

On May 29, 2006, mud started erupting from several sites on the Indonesian island of Java. Boiling mud, water, rocks and gas poured from newly-created vents in the ground, burying entire towns and compelling many Indonesians ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2010
4567 - 4003 > 500. It's not "almost 500 million years", it's MORE than 500 million years. Eeeesh.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2010

"almost 500 million years *AFTER* Earth's formation at 4.567 billion years"

We don't like illiterates around these parts. Do yourself some learns.

500m years AFTER 4.5B is 5.0B years ago.

(*Note to PhysOrg; You guys have the worst web developers on the freaking planet, just FYI.)
not rated yet Feb 24, 2010
lol, jeez, in attempting to correct gopher I made an error myself. They gave the 500m range from 4.0B to 4.5B, the 500m was after 4.0B, as stated when you actually read the article. Lulz.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2010
Actually gopher is almost right. 4567-4030>500. They said the earth was 4.567 billion years old and the newest rocks found are 4.03 billion years old. That does leave MORE than 500 million years *AFTER* earths formation.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2010
The newest rocks are 4.03 billion years AND one month old!
not rated yet Feb 24, 2010
Never mind, I see, my mistake~

I'm guessing they weren't very confident in the numbers, haha.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.